Keeping kids moving: Sumner teacher honored as P.E. Teacher of the Year

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2022

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Derek Picha has a lot to offer when it comes to teaching elementary students about education, but what he mostly wants to do is motivate his students to stay active throughout their lives.

Picha, a teacher at Sumner Elementary in Austin, was recently named Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Health and Physical Educators.

“I try to emphasize with all of my students that everyone learns at their own pace. Sometimes we’ll do an activity that is not your favorite activity, but eventually you’ll find something that makes you want to do it outside of school,” Picha said. “The ultimate goal is to inspire students to lead active and healthy lifestyles. I try to incorporate as many lifelong movement skills as we can.”

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Picha, who is in his fourth year at Sumner, has helped the school be named one of the nation’s Healthy Schools for three straight years.

Last year, he introduced a unit on bicycle safety and this year, he’s bringing roller skating into the mix of what students can learn about.

Picha grew up in Mora, Minnesota and he has been teaching since 2013. Every year, his passion has grown for the position, especially in recent years where he has been able to focus on teaching kids to be social again after lying dormant during the pandemic.

“There is honestly nothing else I’d rather do for a living,” Picha said. “Even on days where it can be hard, it is always interesting. There is a whole backlog of experiences with students I’ve had, where I can laugh or smile. I love seeing the students every day and watching them grow.”

In a time when schools are being forced to focus on test scores and classroom performance, physical education remains a top priority as it boosts performances in school and is crucial to mental health.

“It’s one of the most important parts of the educational experience,” Picha said. “Daily movement supports and improves academic ability. Getting that oxygen flowing to the brain helps kids focus in the classroom better.”

Being honored as P.E. teacher of the year has meant a lot ot Picha, who has dedicated himself

“I struggle to find the words to express what this means to me. Our awards committee selected me among six or seven other highly qualified candidates, including one who I looked up to my whole career,” Picha said. “It’s a huge honor and it’s a little overwhelming and it’s great to be recognized in a profession that doesn’t get a lot of recognition sometimes.”